William Mawwain

William Mawwin, whose story of Sudanese
child slavery is told by Melissa Pritchard

Issue #271 | August 21, 2013

Features
Beautiful Work Is the Soul of Our Culture: The SPU MFA
Star-Crossed: A Hollywood Love Story in Three Acts by Ron Austin
Brilliant Falls by John Terpstra
"Still, God Helps You" by Melissa Pritchard
Genius Loci by Lance Larsen


Gallery Watch
Edward Carlos's GALAXY at IONA
Kathleen Markowitz's Breath of Light Things


Message Board
Introducing Wiseblood Books
CARAVAN Exhibition from Cairo to London

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Beautiful Work Is the Soul of Our Culture: The SPU MFA

SPU MFA Most of you who read ImageUpdate know that our Glen Workshops and Glen Online programs offer opportunities for writers to develop their craft with gifted mentors. But we want you to know about another fantastic option: the low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Seattle Pacific University (where Image is based). The SPU MFA is directed by Image editor Gregory Wolfe and staffed by an outstanding group of writers familiar to our readers: Robert Clark, Jeanine Hathaway, Paula Huston, Gina Ochsner, Jeanne Murray Walker, and Lauren Winner. The SPU MFA is a writing program for apprentice poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers who want to pursue excellence in the craft of writing while placing their work within the larger context of the Judeo-Christian tradition of faith—as it compels the writer toward a high standard of art and an open-eyed exploration of human experience. Elizabeth Myhr, an MFA alumna, said, "When I decided, after twenty years of writing, that it was time to go back to school, I looked for three things in a program: intellectual rigor, high standards for the art, and a program that would support what I consider a fact of art—that beautiful work is the soul of our culture. I needed a program that saw the spiritual practice in the writing process. The SPU MFA program was a perfect fit." A benefit of the low-residency program is that it allows students to maintain their current jobs and locations, while offering two stimulating and intensive ten-day residency periods each year at stunning locations in the American West: the high desert of New Mexico and the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. This program has received many accolades, including a rave review from the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), the professional creative writing organization that did a full assessment of the SPU MFA. (Read excerpts here.) If you want to take your writing to a whole new level, consider the SPU MFA program.

Breaking news! The SPU MFA is now on rolling admission. Apply today and get an admission response in less than five weeks.

There are now merit scholarships available for outstanding applicants!

To learn more about SPU's low-residency MFA, visit the program website, read the brochure, or watch the series of video interviews about the program.

Star-Crossed: A Hollywood Love Story in Three Acts by Ron Austin

Star Crossed If you've followed Image over the years, you've likely run into Ron Austin at some point, most likely in the form of his insightful reflections on the making and meaning of films. For many of us, especially for a younger generation of filmmakers, Austin has been something of an elder statesman—a writer and thinker who is both unassuming and yet deeply wise, someone able to draw on decades of experience in the TV and movie business but also conversant with theology, politics, and the thought of René Girard. Given the various hints about his long history in Hollywood—one of his first bosses was Charlie Chaplin—one might even joke about Austin as a Zelig-like figure, showing up in so many classic moments of American cinematic history. (How about his being a young communist who was one of those blacklisted in the McCarthy era or his writing gig for Charlie's Angels?) When we first heard that he'd published a memoir, Star-Crossed: A Hollywood Love Story in Three Acts, we assumed that this would be the full glorious revelation of all the actors and films and TV series he'd been involved with over this storied career. But we should have known better than imagining a gossipy autobiography. Star-Crossed is, in fact, at once a more modest book and a more profound, substantial one. The love story referred to in the title is none other than his own, but this book is not merely about his marriage to Ruth: it is a passionate and compassionate look at the relationship between Jews and Christians as refracted through his marriage to a Jewish woman. Austin's marriage, and his work within an entertainment business that owes much to Jewish entrepreneurs and visionaries, led him to think deeply about the troubled, fraught relationship between Christians and Jews. The result is a book that's hard to summarize but well worth reading: a memoir, yes, but also a meditation on fear, attraction, misunderstanding, and the possibility of reconciliation. Once again Ron Austin puts Hollywood in a larger historical, cultural, and theological perspective, and our lives are richer for it.

Purchase this book and begin reading today!

Brilliant Falls by John Terpstra

Brilliant FallsJohn Terpstra is unquestionably a Renaissance man: poet, woodworker, and collaborator on a variety of multimedia projects involving music, worship, theater, and the Internet. His new collection reflects these wide interests; the book shifts effortlessly between different forms, voices, and images, all held together by Terpstra's musical ear. He has a pleasantly wandering, narrative style that in the space of a few lines can jump from "an island of evergreen / that is edged with flowers" to "a corporate spaceship filling-station" to a "motel / owned by a refugee couple from Tibet," and yet in his hands the progression feels natural. The poems in Brilliant Falls explore the fragility of life, death, and family through surprising and sometimes surreal twists. The poet drag races with the Queen of England in his minivan, nearly runs over the spirit of Sitting Bull reincarnated as a hawk on the highway, and dreams he is a sniper taking potshots at a stranger in the snow. But these wildly imaginative scenes are also interspersed with quiet, deeply memorable poems about family life and the strange experiences of aging. A sense of subtle, dark humor pervades his poems, which he often uses to disguise profound theological questions. In a poem called "Crossing into Heaven" (our favorite of the bunch), the poet arrives at the pearly gates and waits for Peter to look him up in his Book: "In the brief eternity that follows // you can't help but notice that the paper / is hand-crafted, possibly Japanese, / and wonder if this is a good sign." Peter then explains how "some days he feels no better than a border guard / for a country without enough self-respect to lock its doors, // like Canada." A master of juxtaposition, Terpstra is at his best when his highly musical language butts up against this humor: "Dear God in heaven-on-earth / (this river / these friends) / Why so much shit?" the poet asks while on a camping trip. As usual, this is both contextually hilarious and, of course, a profound question we are each always asking. "Dear God in heaven why so much of this / stinking to high heaven am I / who I / am?"

Read Brilliant Falls today.

"Still, God Helps You" by Melissa Pritchard

William MawwainNo matter the topic, Melissa Pritchard is one of our favorite writers. In "Still, God Helps You," an essay originally published in the Wilson Quarterly and recently named to the Longreads Top 5 of the Week, her lucid prose melts into the first-person narrative of William Mawwin, a Sudanese man whose story of his childhood and early adulthood spent enslaved, imprisoned, or on the street is both a staggering tale of exile and suffering and, in Pritchard's words, "a heroic journey." We've said before that Pritchard has an easy facility for crafting stories with a both/and quality; in our 2010 Artist of the Month paragraph, we noted that "Melissa Pritchard's stories often cross an invisible line—between normality, as we usually define it, and, well, the not-normal… Pritchard unsettles us but not for shock value, except in the sense that the presence of the holy—or the hunger for it—can shock us." Mawwin's story is heart-wrenching: at six, he was kidnapped and forced on a death march to a faraway slave market, assuming a life of being continually beaten, cheated, and thrown into false imprisonment, until further calamity brought him to the US. This is unsettling enough, but as in so many of Pritchard's pieces, a shock of the holy awaits. In an interview with the editor of the Wilson Quarterly, Pritchard says Mawwin "has no malice. He reframes every experience. He says, 'If I hadn't been enslaved, I wouldn't be speaking English, a college student in America…. Now I can return to South Sudan and help my people." In looking over his past, a patchwork of suffering and treasured bright spots, Mawwin said to Pritchard (whom he calls "Mom") in one of their many talks leading up to the essay's publication: "I wish I could invite everyone to dinner. And we could all sit down at a big table. And I just want to talk to everyone, and thank them, and appreciate them, and ask them why they did what they did. Why did they treat me that way?" And he means everyone, Pritchard says.

This is a story you'll carry with you. Read it in full at the Wilson Quarterly.

Genius Loci by Lance Larsen

Genius Loci"What if the other life is buried inside this one?" asks Utah Poet Laureate Lance Larsen in the first poem in his newest collection. It's a startling question, and Larsen truly means to find out. He begins by sifting through landscapes as various as public buses, subways, barns, forests, and lakes, where animal and human life hums, hisses, and churns. The "other life" that the narrator digs up is a nearly conscious natural world terrifying in its tamelessness: "He limped off through unmown grass, / if a snake can limp, like a fallen prophet / trying to part the waters... / this serpent I thought I owned, taking / some swallowed part of us into a darker fold." Even dead beasts and inanimate objects stir to life inside these poems—"What is a rotting / mouse but a country of flies buzzing with praise?"—as the narrator works out creation's "genius loci," meaning a location's distinctive atmosphere or "the spirit of the place." Larsen's surreal images slowly accrete. The mind is forced to work once, twice over carefully knotted descriptions. "Or was I the web itself—nerved grid, sacrificial hammock?" Soon it no longer seems unreasonable for the narrator to melt into the world, to become lost to spatial and temporal distinctions, for God the Father to return in His "creaturely perfection" and "burrow and gallop, buffalo the prairie / again, penguin the unhatched egg, / then sleep off centuries of miracles." Larsen's narrator, hungry for connection, finds it almost everywhere his eye or hand descends. Genius Loci frames a picture of a world charged with spirit, electric and savage and miraculous. Still the narrator nudges us forward: it would be worth going beyond just traversing such a world, beyond merely inhabiting it. One can own and become this world. That is the other life.

Purchase Genius Loci today!

Gallery Watch

Edward Carlos's GALAXY at IONA

GALAXYGALAXY is a circular art installation at IONA Art Sanctuary in Sewanee that includes the life-size figural formation Cosmic Crèche. The latter, a "walk-though dimensional painting," is situated within the format of twelve interior vertical "star" panels (each eight feet by four feet) and twelve "deep space" exterior panels representing the Milky Way. Cosmic Crèche symbolizes both the Christian nativity and the Big Bang as the scientific designation for the creation of the universe. The entire ensemble is symbolic of the universe in expansion. Two full years were involved in the planning and creation of the combined artworks. Edward Carlos holds a Ph.D. in comparative arts and is Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at The University of the South. This exhibit will remain open through the end of the year. For visiting information, contact Carlos here.

Kathleen Markowitz's Breath of Light Things

Breath of Light ThingsKathleen Markowitz is best known for her atmospheric, layered abstract paintings and collages. She strongly identifies with the color blue, and many of her works feature rich hues of cobalt, lapis, and indigo. Using thin washes of pigment, Markowitz lends vividness to her colors, inviting viewers to study their depth. Her newest collection, Breath of Light Things, shows a shift toward thicker layers of paint, more active brush strokes, and brilliant hues. In these works, abstract patchwork designs of bright colors are anchored by heavy brushwork on a pale gray or mixed white ground. By using neutral tones to create an intense contrast, Markowitz allows her viewers to join her in celebrating the radiance of this strong palette. Markowitz has exhibited nationally and internationally, including at the United States Embassies in Hong Kong and South Africa, and in Uzbekistan. Breath of Light Things will be showing through the end of August at Page Bond Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. Click here for more information.

Message Board

Post here to reach thousands of readers interested in the intersection of art and faith. We welcome messages about job listings, local events, conferences, prizes, calls for papers, and more. Submit your messages by sending an e-mail here.

Introducing Wiseblood Books

Wiseblood Books is a newly-launched publishing line particularly favorable toward works of fiction, poetry, and philosophy that render truths with an unyielding "realism of distances." Such works find redemption in uncanny places and people; wrestle us from the tyranny of boredom; show forth the sham of respectability; engage with the unsuspected pockets of the human heart, be they sources of violence or courage; articulate faith and doubt in their incarnate complexity; dare an unflinching gaze at human beings as "political animals"; and suffer through trials without forfeiting hope. Wiseblood seeks and publishes fiction as popular as Dickens's Pickwick Papers, Cather's O Pioneers!, or P.D. James's The Children of Men and demanding as Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, Melville's Moby-Dick, or David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Although they've already produced a small library of classics, Wiseblood Books will release its first work of contemporary fiction, The Unfinished Life of N., on October 1, 2013. You can learn more, follow the blog, buy books, submit manuscripts, or donate here.

CARAVAN Exhibition from Cairo to London

As Egypt continues to seek its path into the future, St. Paul's Cathedral will host a unique interfaith exhibition, In Peace and with Compassion from August 31 to September 23, a major artwork of twenty-five life-size painted fiberglass donkeys which travelled from Cairo, Egypt, in the name of peace and compassion. The CARAVAN interfaith art exhibition sees the work of Egypt's premier artists, Muslim and Christian, who each painted/decorated one donkey, as a symbol in both faiths of peace and compassion. The CARAVAN exhibition follows in the footsteps of a number of public art displays that have featured painted animals, yet with an added depth in its symbolism, intention, and message. The painted donkeys were first exhibited in strategic places throughout Cairo, where they achieved huge amounts of interest. Now twenty-five come to St Paul's Cathedral before being auctioned by Sotheby's, with all profits from sales going to charities in Egypt that serve the poorest of the poor, regardless of creed. For more information, please contact Ed Holmes, Press and Communications Manager at St. Paul's.

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ImageUpdate is the biweekly e-mail newsletter from Image, a quarterly print journal that explores the relationship between Judeo-Christian faith and art through contemporary fiction, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, film, music, and dance. Each issue also features interviews, memoirs, essays, and reviews.

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